Friday Assorted Links

1. We should all approach life a little more like Benjamin David. Tough to beat his commute.

2. How a school ditched awards and assemblies to refocus on kids and learning.

“‘This is one of the most robust findings in social science—and also one of the most ignored,’ wrote Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pursuit of the trinket or prize extinguishes what might have been a flicker of internal interest in a subject, suffocating the genuine sources of motivation: mastery, autonomy and purpose.”

3. More Foxconn Wisconsin fallout.

4. Best financial blogs. (We did not make the list.)

5. About half of Ethiopian youth chew a psychotropic leaf with amphetaminelike effects.

How to make sense of these two sentences?

“The country’s government, which rules the economy with a tight grip, is worried that the habit could derail its plans to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country in less than a decade ― a national undertaking that will require an army of young, capable workers, it says. Khat is legal and remains so mainly because it is a big source of revenue for the government.”

Leadership Insights

After 17+ years in SE Olympia, Team Byrnes is moving nine miles to NE Olympia. Consequently, we’re in declutter overdrive. While culling my files, I came across an interview I did with my dad, Don Byrnes, during my doctoral coursework. At the time he was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Spalding & Evenflo Companies, Inc.

Like my brother, I was really thinking about my mom during our first Christmas eve service since her death. And almost equally about my dad even though he died 20 years ago. Probably because I’ve assumed more leadership responsibilities at work and wish I could talk to him about that. That’s why the rediscovery and re-reading of this transcript is special to me. Hope there’s a take-away or two for you too.

Selected excerpts [with commentary]:

Ron: When did you first feel you were in a position of leadership?

Don: Though I don’t remember feeling it at the time, it probably began when I was chosen to do the Easter and Christmas stories in our church programs. This was followed by serving as president of the service, drama, an student council organizations in high school. However, my first position, managing an insurance underwriting department, left me with a leadership feeling. [Had no idea he ever even attended church. Love imagining him ruling the roost on the church stage.]

Ron: What motivates you and what do you to do motivate others?

Don: Initially motivation was a combination and a desire to excel together with a need for financial security. Today, with financial security, I’m motivated by achievement—this is successfully getting to the end of the objective. As I believe an organization takes on the good and bad characteristics of its leader, I strive to set a good example by displaying industriousness, loyalty, and integrity in my interpersonal relationships. People will always follow you and help you attain a mutual goal when they believe in what you are doing and in you as an individual. The best definition I heard of a leader is: a person who finds out where people want to go then gets out in front of them and takes them there. [I like this twist on thinking that leaders should have a vision and then convince others of its merits. Finding out where people want to go probably requires more patience and better listening skills than many people in leadership positions have.]

Ron: What form of communication do you find most effective for obtaining ideas from subordinates?

Don: My personal communication style is an open door policy, with “management by walking around” in all areas of the business preaching the doctrine of what I’m trying to accomplish. You must be a good listener in order to read the direction, attitudes and morale of your employees. Once you have learned that a change or correction is needed, you must implement it so the organization will stay open and continue to contribute. [For a classic example of how NOT to do this, read this article,
Washington State Patrol Chief takes issue with report on staffing issue“.]

Ron: What techniques for stress management do you follow for yourself and others?

Don: Stress to me is too often the result of poor performance, and is an excuse used by individuals who wish they were doing something else. I’ve never had much time for people who complain of being stressed out. My escape is riding a bicycle. After an hour of riding, I feel better physically and mentally. [Brilliant insight that needs no elaboration.]

Postscript:

Eldest Daughter: Liked your blog post today. Makes me think I should interview you sometime.

Me: Thanks, quite a legacy. If I work at it, someday I may be half the leader he was. I would’ve kicked his ass on the bike though.

 

 

 

 

I Wonder

Is there such a thing as “intrinsic motivation”? Apart from built-in biological compulsions to eat, sleep, reproduce? I’ve wondered this for a while and asked myself the question most recently as a result of excerpts from Robert Samuelson’s September 6th Washington Post article titled “School reform’s meager results“.

A few excerpts:

“Reforms” have disappointed for two reasons. First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) “scalable” — easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains.”

“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a “good” college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure.”

From that comprehensive list, only curiosity strikes me as something we would likely agree is mostly intrinsic in nature. We’re not very introspective when we talk about our intrinsic motivations. If we were more reflective I suspect we’d find our motivations are at best intrinsic/extrinsic amalgamations.

When I listen to people explain why they think they did well in school, they typically say, “I didn’t want to let my father/parents/grandmother down.” They weren’t naturally gifted. There were adults in their lives they didn’t want to disappoint.

Given that, maybe the key to education reform is strengthening families in ways that will lead to heightened parental expectations to the point where students are extrinsically motivated by them to work harder and achieve more.

Cultivating Passion

From The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.

“Michael Jung. . . believes that ‘there are only three reasons why people work or learn. There’s push, which is a need, threat or risk, but this is now a less plausible or credible motivating force [in the industrialized countries] than it has been, even for the disadvantaged. There’s transfer of habits—habits shaped by social norms and traditional routines. But this, too, is becoming weaker now, because of the erosion of traditional authority and social values. That leaves only pull—interest, desire, passion.’ I understand Jung to be talking about three kinds of human motivation. Physiological need is one—the need for food and shelter and so on. But he suggests that with high rates of employment and government safety nets, this is less of a motivational force in many young people’s lives than it once was. The desire to adhere to social norms is another human motivation that is weaker than it used to be, because traditional sources of authority, religion and family, have less influence on young people today. Jung believes that it is the third motivational force—interest, desire, and passion—that increasing numbers of young people are seeking and responding to in school and at the workplace.”

We tend to be products of our environments so I wouldn’t describe the transfer of habits/adherence to social norms argument quite like Jung and Wagner. The influence of significant others, for better or worse, is still there. My clearest childhood memories of my dad are of him pacing the house as he memorized his sales presentations.  Five or six at the time, the impact was indelible. Every family has momentum, whether positive or negative. Because of my parents, ours was positive which is not synonymous with perfect. If a critical mass of adults in a young person’s life aren’t working and planning for a better future, we can’t expect that young person to care much about school work, continuing their education, or making a positive difference in the world.

If we agree that young people are mostly motivated by interest, desire, and passion, as I’m inclinded to do, we need to rethink teaching, coaching, and parenting. In his book, Wagner tells Kate’s story, a senior in high school. “Kate suffered from too much of the wrong kind of adult authority,” Wagner writes. “She was overmanaged for success—success being narrowly defined as getting into a college her parents and teachers considered to be top-notch and having a high paying job.”

What good are high standardized test scores and good grades if a student lacks specific interests, desires, and passion? What if they learn to “do school” but fail to become passionate about anything?

The seventeen and eighteen year-olds that I know are striving to get into the best colleges possible. But what makes one college better than another? US News and Report offers pseudo-empirical answers based upon numbers colleges get good at manipulating, but there’s more art to educational excellence than science. Maybe the best college is the one where faculty and staff help students discover their interests and desires. They advise and teach passionately; consequently, students become more passionate about writing, or a language, a culture, an environmental challenge, a historical period, a social movement, global politics, law, or medicine. I’d like to see USN&R measure staff and faculty passion for advising and teaching.

If I did a focus group with my daughter and her twelfth grade friends, I suspect all of them could identify things they like, but only a few could explain in any detail what they are most passionate about and why. And surely those few that are ahead of the curve need guidance on how to turn their passions into purposeful vocations. My wish for my daughter and her friends is that over the next four or five years they become more passionate and begin translating their passions into meaningful, rewarding work.